The Vivekananda Foundation's Web site [ http://www.vivekananda.org ] is a real work of art. One of the most stimulating and attractive of the Vedanta Web sites, the Vivekananda Foundation's home page begins with a 'FREE Book Offer for Libraries' offering a complimentary copy of Living at the Source: Yoga Teachings of Vivakananda to libraries, thus managing to touch both the reading public and the cyber- public in one stroke We have to remember, how ever that since a good Web site is always 'in progress', the home page that appears today will probably be different from the home page you will see when this article is printed. The same thing is true about the three synopses of Swami Vivekananda's lectures which are posted today. (You can, however, read what I'm seeing today by clicking on the 'Archives' icon to access the previously posted lectures.)
The Vivekananda Foundation Web site offers books, tapes, FAQS, IFAQS (just in case you're interested in Infrequently Asked Questions), suggested readings, and a biography (plus photos) of Swami Vivekananda. The web site explains the purpose and goals of the Vivekananda Foundation and also lists the Verdant societies and bookstores The Vivekananda Foundation anticipates using 'sound bytes' of Swamiji's lectures in the future: that is, by clicking on 'The Goal,' for example, you would be able to listen to a portion of the lecture being read by a trained reader.
The real jewel of the Vivekananda Foundation Web site is the 'portals' section: clicking the icon, you are ushered into an exquisite antechamber offering three choices-- three entryways-- each one having the name of one of Swamiji's lectures. For the next three months [ written September 1997], the three entryways are: 'The Goal,' 'The Four Yogas,' and 'Immortality'. By the time you read this, the entryways will be different. If we walk through the 'Four Yogas' doorway, we'll find a succinct argument: 'These Yogas, though divided into various groups, can principally be classed into four; and as each is only a method leading indirectly to the realisation of the Absolute, they are suited to different temperaments..' A One-sentence summary of each of the four Yogas is given, and each yoga (karma yoga for example) is in hypertext. Click on the hypertext and another page appears with a full paragraph giving a more detailed explanation of each particular yoga: Within each paragraph, different words are in hypertext so anyone interested can click on the word for further information.
The Vivekananda Foundation's 'Web site has been quite popular, as is evidenced by 50,000 'hits' they have receive an average of 2,000 per month. ('Hits' does not refer to the actual number of people who have viewed the site, but rather to the number of files downloaded to visitors.) However it is defined, the Web site has been busy and appreciated. They have received many requests for information on Swami Vivekananda from all over the world: Slovenia, Finland, Quatar, Croatia, Norway, Poland, Tobago, Venezuela, New Zealand, Kuwait-to give a small sampling of the far-flung locations which. have 'dropped in' to the site. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the visitors were from India.
A large number of those who sent in queries requested the locations of various Vedanta Societies. More esoteric queries have also been sent: One person wondered how he was to get water to run through his nose as per Swamiji's instructions. Others have volunteered their services: several people have offered their help to maintain the Web site and one person has already begun doing. volunteer work at the Vivekananda Foundation.
A final word on 'links': we have discussed the sites with whom the Vedanta Society of Southern California has linked. But just because we link to a site--Time magazine's 'GOD.com' for example- this does not mean that they link back to us. So while you can find 'God.com'. by going into our Web site, you cannot find our Web site by going into 'God.com'. Moreover, we have no idea of all the sites that have linked to us. Unless we are informed by the other Web site, there is no way to Find out. Net etiquette ('netiquette') dictates that when you link to another Web site, you should inform them. Many have done so, but many, unfortunately, have not. Further, there is nothing that can be done to prevent even objectionable sites linking to us-such are the hazards of the nearly anarchic cybernetic universe.
While we've dwelt almost exclusively on the positive effects of computer technology, the shadow side of the world's increased computerization needs to be addressed. There are powerful drawbacks inherent with increased technology and many difficult questions remain unanswered.
If, for example, we become aligned with a cyber-community, what happens to the human community surrounding us? Do we become less available to our fellow human beings as we concentrate more on the glowing screen in front of us? Do we seek it because it spares us the difficulties and confusions of human interaction?
Further, with the increased emphasis on knowledge, communication, and entertainment coming from inside the computer, what happens to our sense of reality, tenuous as it already is? One eerie example is a popular new software package that offers its owners a cybernetic pet dog. According to recent newspaper reports, those who 'own' their cyber-dogs become extremely attached to them: they can hardly wait to get home from work to boot up their computers so they can play with their pets. Owners can hygienically adore their dogs while playing catch on the screen-feeding, grooming, and otherwise caring for a computer image. All the fun without the messiness of reality. When the borders betweenreality and virtual reality become so blurred, what are the psychological and societal implications? Another thorny issue is the radically nonhierarchical nature of the Internet. No site is above others; no site is given more precedence than others. Everyone is on an equal footing on the Net. But life, as we know, isn't like that. Some things are more important than others. Some people should be listened to with more attention than others. Trivia competes with genuine value on a level playing field in cyberspace. A paradigmatic example: There is a 'Ramakrishna' bulletin board posting (with nothing posted inside since anything more than a few days old is removed). The 'Ramakrishna' site is sandwiched between the 'Ralph Fiennes' site (a fan club, one would presume) and the 'rat fink' (best not to presume at all). On the bulletin board index, all the sites flatten to a virtual equality.
Again, there are a large number of Hinduism sites on the Net, some scurrilous, some authentic: how can a person who lacks adequate background or judgment make a distinction between the two? Yet the tendency is to accept as truth whatever is posted on the Net- echoing Sri Ramakrishna's words about people believing whatever is written in the newspaper.
Even the very nature of Web site is problematic.If children become accustomed to reading hypertext- jumping from page to page, clicking on whatever word interests them- what effect will this have on linear reasoning? Further , if a child (or an adult , for the matter) becomes habitutated to reading short bits and pieces, then clicking on some thing else when bored- will this not attenuate the person's power of concentration? Will such a person ever be able to read seriously and deeply?
So, like almost everything else in this world of maya, the Internet has both good and bad points. One thing we can say with a fair amount of certainty. computer technology and the Internet will not go away The toothpaste will not go back in the tule; the genie will not go back in the jar. We in the Vedanta movement now have the choice either to use it as a means of spreading the message of Vedanta or to ignore it- perhaps at the peril of the Vedanta movement's further growth.
For our part in Southern California, we have been truly heartened by the great amount of interest in Vedanta that has been generated by our Web site. There is no question that our presence on the World Wide Web has greatly enhanced our availability to the general public. This is particularly crucial for North America, but America isn't the only location to consider. Our Web site has been visited by people from Croatia, Israel, United Arab Emirates,Bolivia, South Africa, Sweden, Mauritius Finland- and so on, and so on. Who could have predicated that someone in Iceland would want more information on Sir Ramakrishna? And in now many other lands will similar request occur? The Internet holds great promises for the East also, many young people, having lost touch with their own traditions and fallen prey to the least elevating elements of Westernization, can touch base with their own spiritual heritage through the computer technology they prize.
We are encourage enough to believe that through the Internet, many more people will discover the message or Vedanta and will find their lives transformed.
The Lord, as we know, works in strange and mysterious ways. It appears that He even works through the Internet.